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Reflections on human rights events, issues and experiences by WCL students.

Featured Article

Breaking Down Barriers to Enforcing Human Rights Law in the United States

By Jackie Zamarripa ’14        

As I faced the 14-foot border wall in Brownsville, Texas, I realized how this divider is symbolic of the little progress we have made with immigration and border issues. Walls are outdated barriers that offer the impression of security and safety to its citizens by limiting entry of foreign objects and people. However, the border wall separating Mexico from the United States has stretches of mile-long gaps and represents a simplistic way of thinking to a more complicated problem. Looking at the wall from both sides tells a story of two very different societies. I witnessed the reality of low-income Texans in desperate need of legal help with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid this summer, and it has opened my eyes to an unbelievable and humbling experience.  

The Local Human Rights Lawyering Project of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law selected Maryland Legal Aid Bureau and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid as their first partners to promote human rights at the local level in the United States. The project encourages legal aid attorneys to integrate human rights arguments into advocacy before domestic judges and policy makers, as well as to integrate human rights principles into the client-lawyer relationship and organizational decision-making systems. I was fortunate to meet our partners in New York last spring and was excited to see how open-minded and eager the legal aid attorneys were to incorporate human rights into their daily work, especially in a traditional state like Texas.

Throughout my internship, it was great to work with attorneys and staff members who were so committed to protecting civil rights and promoting justice. I worked with extremely knowledgeable and passionate attorneys on a range of practice areas. I interacted with migrant farm worker clients and wrote legal documents in English and Spanish for victims of international child abductions. The work was very hands-on and provided a better picture of unique areas of law specifically tailored to the RioGrande Valley. Working alongside the border provided an invaluable experience outside the classroom, and there is no doubt that this experience has made me a stronger advocate for social justice.

When there is a wall in front of you, there is no way to move forward. Yet, the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project and its team of dedicated legal aid attorneys are striving to implement human rights at the local level to break down the barriers that will help protect basic human rights for all individuals, regardless of their migrant status.  

Jackie Zamarripa is a member of the Center’s Student Advisory Board and a Speak Truth To Power Human Rights Teaching Fellow at WCL. To learn more about Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, visit http://www.trla.org/.

Student Perspectives at WCL

Alternative Spring Break: LGBTI Rights in El Salvador, by Arli Christian, '13
Finding Inspiration in a Forgotten Community
, by Elizabeth Dukette ’16
Behind the Scenes of the UN CAT Project
, by Whitney Garrett '13
Human Rights on Paper vs. Human Rights in Practice: A First-Hand View of the Inter-American Commission in Session, by Isabel Erreguerena ’13
VIP Only: Voting Regulations as Restrictions on Human Rights
, by Rachel Schulman '14
Human Rights in the Balance: Kiobel and the Future of Corporate Liability for Human Rights Abuses, by Pegah Yazdy '13
Aung San Suu Kyi: A Symbol of Hope for Burma’s Future
, by Matthew Lopas '14
Equal Work, Equal Treatment, by Rachel Schulman '14
Breaking Down Barriers to Enforcing Human Rights Law in the United States, by Jackie Zamarripa '14
Behind the Scenes at the Center
, by Mathuri Thamilmaran '12
Up Close with a Convicted Criminal
, by Alyssa Zamora '14
Rockstars in the Legal Profession
, by Mary Kim '13
Remembering the Human Element of Human Rights
, by Christina Fetterhoff '14
By Virtue of Being Human: Human Rights on the Hill
, by Peter Bean '14
Human Rights in Practice: Making a Difference through Clinic Participation, by Whitney Hayes '12
The Moral Evolution of Consciousness: Discussing the Death Penalty, by Diana Navas '14
Arpilleras: Fabric Art of Memory and Protest, by Christina Fetterhoff '14

Alternative Spring Break: LGBTI Rights in El Salvador

By Arli Christian, ’13

Walking in to the first-ever LGBTI Human Rights Conference in El Salvador it is hard to believe there is discrimination against sexual diversity in this country. Conference attendees are the picture of diversity, coming from all around the world, with a full spectrum of gender presentations, socioeconomic backgrounds, and personal stories. Against this backdrop we discussed the state of LGBTI rights in El Salvador and how to move forward to help promote security and equality for all individuals. We learned that while this conference is a safe place of expression and sharing, daily life for LGBTI individuals in El Salvador and elsewhere is colored by discrimination and violence.

Over spring break, I traveled with three other WCL students and a faculty advisor to spend the week in El Salvador working with ALDES (Legal Support for Sexual Diversity in El Salvador). We investigated the new government transparency laws in El Salvador and how LGBTI activists can use them to gather information. These laws are similar to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and represent an effort by the Salvadoran Government to fight corruption within executive branch activities. We met various international actors in the government transparency initiative, including members of the United Nations Development Program in El Salvador, who encouraged use of the transparency laws to highlight information not currently collected by the Government, and members of USAID El Salvador and the State Department of San Salvador, who discussed domestic initiatives that encourage inclusion of the LGBTI community. To complement our international organization discussions we met with Salvadoran Government representatives from the Department of Social Inclusion, including the Director of the Office of Sexual Diversity, to gain insight into how government officials promote LGBTI rights.

Our delegation learned of a variety of perspectives on the LGBTI movement and the state of Salvadoran laws that protect or fail to protect the community, and witnessed the energy of the LGBTI movement in action at a historic conference. But our work with the Salvadoran community does not stop here. We return to WCL with advocacy articles to write, connections to foster, and a list of exciting projects to bring back to WCL professors, students, and clinics. Our week in El Salvador was the beginning of what we hope to be a lasting relationship with the Salvadoran LGBTI legal community.

Finding Inspiration in a Forgotten Community

By Elizabeth Dukette ’16

Should I spend my last week of winter freedom applying for jobs or volunteering in New Orleans (NOLA)? This was probably the easiest question I had asked myself in the first few months of my 1L year. Choosing to do volunteer work was the best decision I had made in a while.

Our group was assigned to work with a community group based in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The organization’s director expressed a sincere need for help, but he had no pre-planned assignment or project for us to complete.  Personally, as someone who is assignment driven, this was challenging.  Our placement required us to listen to the director, identify his problems, and come up possible solutions.

One of the most prominent of the problems faced by residents in the Lower Ninth Ward is the housing shortage. The city has been taking away homes for arbitrary reasons, such as failure to mow the lawn. The government also expects owners to produce titles for their homes, but the titles cannot be produced because they have been lost over the generations or destroyed in the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. The community feels they are being pushed out of their homes so the land can be redeveloped into commercial areas.  While we were there, we conducted in-depth research and were able to provide the community group with a document detailing recommendations for assisting the community and providing a list of organizations community members could contact for long-term support.

Participating in this trip allowed me to look at the challenges lawyers face when going into non-profit legal work. Often clients don’t know what to ask, and, as their advocates, we should let them speak and ask them what they want before we can efficiently advocate for them. Additionally, this trip reminded me that although learning the black letter law in class at times feels stifling of our natural creativity, that creativity is essential to legal practice.

I will apply for AWB again next year, and as I continue my law school career, my NOLA experience will remind me of those things that we sometimes forget in the daily bustle of law student life. Active listening, passionate creativity, and a keen stubbornness to get results will take us further than we can imagine.

Behind the Scenes of the UN CAT Project

By Whitney Garrett ’13

“How would you feel if one day the government took away the only home you had ever known and offered you no recourse?” WCL Dean Claudio Grossman, the Chair of the UN Committee against Torture, posed this question to us in our first class for the UN CAT Project last semester. “Would you feel tortured?” He asked. With this example, Dean Grossman opened our eyes to the broad range of issues that may arise under the United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT). The Convention covers those acts commonly thought of as torture, but it also includes many other human rights issues, including those typically thought of as concerning women’s, immigrants’, and LGBT rights. 

The UN CAT Project provides participants an opportunity to research the human rights records of one or two countries appearing before the Committee and to create a list of issues that we believe the Committee should consider when meeting with the countries’ delegations. The program culminates with a trip to the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland for the opportunity to sit in on the Committee’s session and see some of the countries we researched during the semester appear before the Committee.  While in Geneva, we met daily with Dean Grossman to discuss the major human rights issues of the countries coming before the panel that day. Dean Grossman valued our input on the issues, and our research informed his dialogue with country representatives.

The UN CAT Project was an invaluable experience for me because I learned not only about human rights deficiencies around the world, but also about the inner workings of the UN. In addition to participating in the Committee proceedings, we also had opportunities to network with UN officials and WCL alumni and to visit other human rights institutions, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, while in Geneva. My fellow participants and I began the Project with a wide range of interests and future plans, but because of the variety of topics covered in the program and experiences we had in Geneva, we all left with a deeper understanding of human rights issues and the international systems in place to protect them.

Human Rights on Paper vs. Human Rights in Practice: A First-Hand View of the Inter-American Commission in Session

By Isabel Erreguerena ’13

On November 2nd I had the opportunity to cover two Inter-American Commission of Human Rights hearings on Mexico for the Human Rights Brief. As a Mexican, it was interesting to observe the human rights concerns presented to the Commission about my country. The first hearing was on the violence, discrimination, and social cleansing of street people in Mexico. The second hearing was on the cooperation of Mexico with the Inter-American Human Rights System and progress in the Mexican juridical and institutional framework for protection of human rights.

This was a great opportunity to observe how the Commission operates and to witness an evaluation of the state of human rights in my country. What struck me the most in the hearings was the dichotomy between the legal and institutional framework and the reality in Mexico. In both hearings the representatives of Mexico listed dozens of laws and programs designed to protect human rights. Yet an estimated 120,000 persons have been killed in connection to the war on drugs, and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International recently released reports documenting forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and systematic torture in Mexico. This contradiction illustrated to me that it is not enough to simply have legal and institutional frameworks to promote human rights; these frameworks must also be effectively implemented.

Attending these sessions showed me how important the Commission’s site visits and hearings are. Without the opportunity to have a dialogue with people in the field, Commission officials in DC would only read the report submitted by the Mexican Government, which lists the country’s human rights policies, and would never learn about what is happening on the ground. Witnessing the hearings taught me the importance of challenging states’ legal and institutional frameworks in order to ensure implementation of these frameworks and protection of human rights.

Isabel Erreguerena is a Web Writer for the Human Rights Brief.

VIP Only: Voting Regulations as Restrictions on Human Rights

By Rachel Schulman ’14  

"In our system we make people feel like they have to be a VIP to vote," says Marcia Johnson-Blanco, Co-Director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. On Thursday, October 25, the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law hosted "Human Rights Perspectives on U.S. Elections: Free and Fair?" which featured Ms. Johnson-Blanco and Patrick Merloe, Senior Associate and Director of Electoral Programs at the National Democratic Institute, for a panel moderated by Hadar Harris, the Center's Executive Director. The panel centered on the question of what it means to have free and fair elections, examining international standards from a human rights perspective and applying these standards to U.S. election policy.

While the panelists and the audience discussed everything from new voter I.D. laws to voting procedures used abroad, what struck me the most was our discussion of voting rights as human rights.  Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for democratic elections and guarantees the right to vote by "universal and equal suffrage."  Though voting rights are thus held to be universal rights, unlike other human rights, in the United States, the right to vote is not one we are automatically granted by virtue of being human. In other nations, voting may be compulsory and citizens are automatically registered to vote. In the United States, however, it is the responsibility of the individual, not the government, to register him or herself. Why in the United States, one of the most developed nations in the world, is the right to vote not one that we are born with, but one that we must actively opt into through an increasingly difficult process fraught with deterrents and barriers? As law students and legal professionals, it is our duty to take action and assist as many people as possible in meeting these new voting restrictions so as to promote the universal right to vote. Only then can we ensure that access to the democratic process is not VIP only.

Rachel Schulman is a member of the Center’s Student Advisory Board.

Human Rights in the Balance: Kiobel and the Future of Corporate Liability for Human Rights Abuses

By Pegah Yazdy ’13

On October 1, 2012, the future of corporate liability for human rights abuses hung in the balance in the United States Supreme Court.  On October 2, I had the unique opportunity to join over 120 audience members and remote viewers in attending an event on the rehearing of the seminal human rights case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum. The Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, in collaboration with EarthRights International and the Program on International and Comparative Environmental Law, hosted a diverse and inspirational group of panelists as they discussed their divergent views on the case.

This is a pivotal moment in history for the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows U.S. courts to hear any civil action by a non-U.S. citizen for torts committed in violation of the law of nations or a U.S. treaty. This statute has served as a critical legal tool to hold corporations accountable within the United States for human rights violations regardless of where they were committed. The debate centers around the Court’s concern about circumstances in which foreign plaintiffs can sue foreign corporations within the United States for wrongs committed outside of the country. 

As a law student who is passionate about human rights issues, it was fascinating to watch the interplay between the speakers’ ideas about the future of human rights litigation. It was interesting to learn that highly divergent interpretations of a centuries old statute can have such long-lasting impacts on human rights abuse victims who may depend on the ATS to obtain justice in the United States.  Panelist Paul Hoffman, Lead Counsel for the Plaintiffs, expressed his view that the ATS allows parties with strong ties to the United States to be sued for torts they have committed anywhere else in the world.  Alternatively, John P. Bellinger III, a Partner at Arnold & Porter, LLP and former Legal Advisor to the U.S. State Department, opined that the ATS was never intended to apply to torts that occurred in other countries and that such an application would violate international legal guarantees of state sovereignty.

Regardless of the Court’s decision on the case, this event was an excellent opportunity for the Washington, D.C. community to engage in a dynamic discussion on future human rights implications that extend far beyond Kiobel.

Pegah Yazdy is a Dean's Fellow with the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law.

Aung San Suu Kyi: A Symbol of Hope for Burma’s Future

By Matthew Lopas ’14

As she confidently strode into Bender Arena at American University, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was speaking with the Burmese community on her first international trip after fifteen years of house arrest, brought with her something that can be so fleeting in the world of human rights: hope. The Burmese political opposition leader, now a member of parliament, delivered a message of inspiring progress in the Burmese fight for democracy and shared her hope for her country’s future.

“In this day and age there are very, very few happy endings and very few success stories. So much seems to be happening that is disappointing, that is disillusioning all around the world,” she said. “I want Burma to be the exception.”

As I sat in the crowd, the celebratory atmosphere was infectious, and I found myself sincerely believing that Burma could be that exception. The hope that her presence brought to the people, who hung on her words and laughed and cheered along with her, was awe-inspiring and humbling, especially for those like me who attend the Washington College of Law to pursue protection of human rights in our careers. Although most of her address was in Burmese, it was clear to me from the portions in English that many in the audience—some of whom had fled Burma—wanted to know how they could be a part of Suu Kyi’s hope for the future.  

American University recognized this hope in 1997 when it awarded Suu Kyi an honorary doctor of law during her house arrest in Burma. While it was momentous that she was finally able to accept this degree in person, what gave me pause was to think of how far she had come and the words she had to have delivered on her behalf in 1997: “Please use your liberty to promote ours.” It was incredibly inspiring to see her speak in person. Now, Suu Kyi finally has her own liberty and can use it to be a leader for the Burmese people and an example of what those who fight for human rights can accomplish.  

Matthew Lopas is a Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Human Rights Brief.

Equal Work, Equal Treatment
By Rachel Schulman ‘14

I spent my first summer in D.C. undertaking an externship with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a non-profit organization which provides free legal services to LGBT service members and their families. In addition to direct client services, SLDN engages in impact litigation and promotes policies which would bring about full LGBT equality in the military.   

Despite the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, LGBT and HIV+ service members still face discrimination within the military. A federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Though service members may enter into same-sex marriages in states which allow it, DOMA prevents them from being recognized federally. Because the military operates under federal law, same-sex military families are denied many of the benefits afforded to opposite-sex military families. Such benefits include healthcare, veterans' benefits, housing benefits, burial benefits, travel expenses, educational benefits, and more.  

In addition to advancing full equality for all service members, SLDN provides free direct client services. Many service members discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell or the previous ban on homosexuality in the military were given less than honorable discharges on the basis of their sexual orientation, prohibiting them from receiving well deserved veterans benefits. Since the repeal, such service members may apply to have their discharge paperwork upgraded.  Accordingly, I wrote legal memorandum to the military Discharge Review Boards arguing why our clients warranted upgrades to their discharge paperwork.

Working at SLDN was an incredibly humbling and eye-opening experience. As we honor the one-year anniversary of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I applaud that steps the military has taken towards LGBT equality, but these efforts cannot stop here. I can think of no reason why a service member who puts his or her life on the line and who fights for the freedoms on which our nation prides itself should be treated as anything less than a hero. LGBT rights are human rights. As such, we cannot justly treat one group of service members as second-class citizens merely on the basis of their sexual orientation.  To learn more about SLDN’s work, visit www.sldn.org.

Rachel Schulman is a member of the Center’s Student Advisory Board.

Breaking Down Barriers to Enforcing Human Rights Law in the United States

By Jackie Zamarripa ’14        

As I faced the 14-foot border wall in Brownsville, Texas, I realized how this divider is symbolic of the little progress we have made with immigration and border issues. Walls are outdated barriers that offer the impression of security and safety to its citizens by limiting entry of foreign objects and people. However, the border wall separating Mexico from the United States has stretches of mile-long gaps and represents a simplistic way of thinking to a more complicated problem. Looking at the wall from both sides tells a story of two very different societies. I witnessed the reality of low-income Texans in desperate need of legal help with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid this summer, and it has opened my eyes to an unbelievable and humbling experience.  

The Local Human Rights Lawyering Project of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law selected Maryland Legal Aid Bureau and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid as their first partners to promote human rights at the local level in the United States. The project encourages legal aid attorneys to integrate human rights arguments into advocacy before domestic judges and policy makers, as well as to integrate human rights principles into the client-lawyer relationship and organizational decision-making systems. I was fortunate to meet our partners in New York last spring and was excited to see how open-minded and eager the legal aid attorneys were to incorporate human rights into their daily work, especially in a traditional state like Texas.

Throughout my internship, it was great to work with attorneys and staff members who were so committed to protecting civil rights and promoting justice. I worked with extremely knowledgeable and passionate attorneys on a range of practice areas. I interacted with migrant farm worker clients and wrote legal documents in English and Spanish for victims of international child abductions. The work was very hands-on and provided a better picture of unique areas of law specifically tailored to the RioGrande Valley. Working alongside the border provided an invaluable experience outside the classroom, and there is no doubt that this experience has made me a stronger advocate for social justice.

When there is a wall in front of you, there is no way to move forward. Yet, the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project and its team of dedicated legal aid attorneys are striving to implement human rights at the local level to break down the barriers that will help protect basic human rights for all individuals, regardless of their migrant status.  

Jackie Zamarripa is a member of the Center’s Student Advisory Board and a Speak Truth To Power Human Rights Teaching Fellow at WCL. To learn more about Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, visit http://www.trla.org/.

Behind the Scenes at the Center

By Mathuri Thamilmaran ’12

My experience working as a summer Dean’s Fellow at the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law was as exciting as it was memorable.  I was one of the first persons to be recruited into the Center’s newly launched Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI), which was established to assist the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – WCL’s very own Professor Juan Méndez – in  outreach activities building upon his recommendations, both country and issue specific. My work as an ATI Dean’s Fellow involved researching specific countries in which we aimed to build partnerships regarding follow-up and also assisting with input towards the new ATI website, which will be launched soon. The opportunity to work together with the Center staff and a UN Special Rapporteur helped me to learn in depth the nitty-gritty of combating torture.

Working at the Center also gave me two unique opportunities to visit Capitol Hill. First, I covered the hearing on Solitary Confinement held by the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Watching the Senators establishing a sort of solidarity and empathy with individuals held in solitary confinement and learning about how solitary confinement could be successfully abolished without harming the end goal of prisoner rehabilitation was truly a great experience. I had the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill again later in the summer for the Center's Congressional Human Rights Summer Lecture Series, a series of briefings on introductory human rights topics for congressional staff and interns, held in conjunction with the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. These experiences brought home to me the effect human hights principles have on the Hill and fueled my desire to engage more actively in human rights advocacy in the future.

The Center gave me the opportunity to get involved in issues about which I am really passionate and also provided me with a great bunch of new friends – truly amazing people who work hard but also know how to let their hair down and have fun. These are days I know I am not likely to forget.

Mathuri Thamilmaran was a Dean's Fellow for the Center's Anti-Torture Initiative. She is a Sri Lankan human rights attorney and recent WCL graduate. She obtained a Master’s of Law (LL.M.) from the International Legal Studies Program at WCL  specializing in International Human Rights Law.

Up Close with a Convicted International Criminal

By Alyssa Zamora '14

In great literary masterpieces, rain is often used as a powerful symbol of catharsis. In the middle of June in the Netherlands, rain just gives evidence that it is going to be another summer day. Partaking in WCL's summer program in The Hague has been both an eye-opening and shirt-drenching experience. While students interact with prominent international scholars daily, it is the ability to actually go to international courts that distinguishes this program. So on June 13th, I eagerly grabbed my umbrella and embraced the rain as I prepared to gain a whole new perspective of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Unlike international hybrid and ad-hoc tribunals, the ICC is the first permanent, treaty-based criminal court. Since its 2002 activation, it has convicted one man – Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Having already been found guilty of enlisting children under the age of 15, Lubanga again went before the Court for his sentencing hearing, which I was able to attend.

I watched as Lubanga himself addressed the Court and gallery full of observers. Standing tall behind a glass pane he spoke loudly and fervently. In the middle of his address to the Court, he turned to us in the gallery, and his cold, hard stare fell on me. His intense glare sent chills down my spine. I did not need a translation to understand him; his eyes said it all. He ardently denied being a warlord and asserted that the people of the DRC should judge him, not the Court. As I listened to the translation, I could not help but feel as if he were reprimanding not only the Court, but also me. He accused us of knowing nothing of his actions or the happenings of the DRC, but finding him guilty nonetheless. It was in that moment that international criminal accountability came to life; the Court had applied due process and found this man guilty.

What may have seemed like just another moment in time was in fact a significant moment in the development of international criminal law, the ICC, and my education. An hour later as I walked out of the Court and into the pouring rain, I could not help but smile as I reflected on my once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Alyssa Zamora is a member of the Center's Student Advisory Board and a Speak Truth To Power Human Rights Teaching Fellow at WCL. For more information on WCL study abroad programs, visit: http://www.wcl.american.edu/studyabroad.

Rockstars in the Legal Profession

By Mary Kim '13

On July 9th, the Center for American Progress hosted an event titled "Why Courts Matter: LGBT Issues," which addressed the significance of litigation relevant to the LGBT community that has been steadily winding its way towards the Supreme Court. Among the noted panelists was Paul Smith. For the average American, the name probably does not ring a bell. However, virtually everyone recognizes the landmark Supreme Court case that he successfully argued, Lawrence v. Texas.

Lawrence v. Texas is quite possibly as influential as Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education. Paul Smith likely had an inkling the case would be significant while working on it, but even he may not have foreseen that it would be included in every Constitutional Law course or taught in high schools across the nation. With today's culture and mainstream media, it is hard to conceive that less than 10 years ago participation in private sexual acts by consenting same-sex adults was a crime punishable by fines and prison sentences. Sitting in the audience and hearing Paul Smith speak about the case, the far-off theoretical world of textbook opinions and the magnitude of their real-life implications collided. One lawyer had changed the course of U.S. legal history through work on a single case and, even more strangely, he seemed like a normal guy. Though I admittedly was a tad starstruck, I was also reminded that ordinary lawyers can affect real change.

The need for change and for protection of rights and freedoms still exists. Disparate treatment and discrimination−whether based on sexual orientation, race, religion, or other factors−is not a relic of the past but continues today. Minority constituents may not be able to attain equality through legislative ballot initiatives. The only alternative way to protect their constitutional rights is for them to have their day in court. Will the next Paul Smith please take a stand?

He may not have Bono's name recognition, but Paul Smith literally impacted the lives of countless Americans through the advancement of human rights and equality. That, my friend, is rockstar status.

Mary Kim was a summer Legal Intern for the Center's Local Human Rights Lawyering Project and is currently a Center Dean's Fellow.

Remembering the Human Element of Human Rights

By Christina Fetterhoff '14

Squinting through the Costa Rican sunshine and clouds of pungent incense, I watched in reverent silence as survivors of the Río Negro Massacre in Guatemala performed a Mayan ceremony, asking for strength and blessings in their testimonies before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Theirs was one of four cases for which the Court held public hearings during its 95th session, from June 18-29, 2012. As a summer intern at the Court through the Washington College of Law's Externship Program, I have had the privilege not only of attending these hearings, but also of assisting the staff attorneys in their case research, the drafting of Provisional Measures, and the preparation of background memoranda for the judges.

While the research and writing assignments have certainly helped to hone the skills I learned in my first year Legal Rhetoric course, it was really the chance to witness the Court in action and hear the victims' testimonies that reminded me once again why I decided to study international human rights law. After waiting for at least ten years in most cases to tell their stories to the judges who will make the decisions about state responsibility and reparations for the tragedies these people have suffered, the sense of relief that accompanied their testimonies was palpable. Their words of suffering and their gratefulness at finally being heard will continue to echo through my head after I have finished my internship and returned to the carrels in Pence Law Library.

Spending days either in a classroom or an office cubicle, it is often a struggle to maintain present the human element of human rights work while buried in mounds of paper. But having the opportunity to experience the Inter-American Court's public hearings was another reminder that underneath all the paper and behind the hours of legal research there are people depending on an advocate to have their stories told, a human rights defender to bring them justice.

Christina is a member of the Center's Student Advisory Board and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Human Rights Brief. Read her latest article on www.HRBrief.org. For more information about the WCL Externship Program, visit http://www.wcl.american.edu/externship/.

By Virtue of Being Human: Human Rights on the Hill

By Peter Bean '14

If someone asked you to define "human rights," what would you say? When Hadar Harris, Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, posed this question to a room teeming with Congressional staff and interns, one audience member answered, "Human rights are the rights you have by virtue of being human." With this simple yet profoundly perceptive formulation, the first briefing of the 2012 Congressional Human Rights Summer Series began.

Sponsored by the Center, in conjunction with the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the June 11th briefing provided an introduction to international human rights law concepts, principles and norms. With more than 100 attendees, it was one of the most highly attended briefings in the Commission's history. The briefing was also a resounding success for the Center and an encouraging sign of the continued vitality of the human rights narrative in Congress.

Whatever the complexity of international human rights law, the universality of its principles must remain central to its practice. Among the most oft-recited of these principles is enshrined in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It was perhaps the greatest lesson of the briefing that these core principles necessarily inform the way we relate to one another regardless of our station in life, because we are all, in the end, human beings.

The reality persists, however, that while we are all free and equal in theory, the same is not always true in practice. So what if we – lawyers, legislators, activists, humans – ensured that all humans were equal? Enter human rights law and legislation. We must constantly scrutinize our policies and laws, asking ourselves how we can more forcefully defend basic human equality and dignity through the legislative and political process. It is only through doing so that we can uphold the founding principles of our nation enshrined in the Declaration of Independence – that we are all entitled to certain rights simply by virtue of being human.

Peter Bean was a summer Dean's Fellow with the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law. To learn more about the Congressional Human Rights Summer Series, visit www.WCLCenterforHR.org.

Human Rights in Practice: Making a Difference through Clinic Participation

By Whitney Hayes '12

At WCL, I focused my coursework on human rights and asylum law, but these subjects didn't become real to me until I represented a refugee as a Student Attorney in the International Human Rights Law Clinic. A year younger than me, she had endured unimaginable trauma, and I wanted to do everything I could to prevent her from having to return to face the same horrific experiences.

Under the supervision of our clinic professors, my clinic partner and I applied all the practical lawyering skills we learned in our clinic seminar in preparing our client's application and representing her at the asylum interview. I had the opportunity to present a closing statement on her behalf and drew on the oral argument skills I had practiced and strengthened in clinic. As I spoke—in short phrases so the interpreter could translate it into my client's primary language—my client listened to me with such a look of appreciation that I had to fight to keep tears from my eyes. At that moment, I refused to believe that the outcome could be anything but positive. Still, there was no way of knowing until we returned for the official notice of the decision two weeks later.

When the time came, we sat in the waiting room, my client near tears from the enormous weight of anticipation. Finally, we were called to the window, and the woman behind the glass slid me the notice that would change my client's life forever—her asylum application had been approved! I couldn't stop smiling. My client burst into tears of joy and relief, and once again I struggled to hold back my own tears. Representing my client brought the subjects I had studied to life. I wasn't just reading about human rights; I was using my legal career to make a difference in the lives of others.

Whitney was a Dean's Fellow with the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law and is currently the Center's Program Coordinator. Visit the Clinic's website for more information about its work on political asylum cases and international human rights cases and projects. To learn about human rights opportunities for students at WCL, please visit the Center's Students page.

The Moral Evolution of Consciousness: Discussing the Death Penalty

By Diana Navas '14

In 2009, the American Law Institute withdrew the Model Penal Code section on the death penalty because of the current flaws in the structural framework of the capital justice system and their concern regarding the fairness of its administration. With the advent of DNA testing, there is increasing evidence that innocent individuals are executed more often than what was previously understood. Prosecutorial misconduct and poor representation by the defense are often identified as an explanation to the errors that occur in the death penalty process.

On March 1, 2012, WCL students were asked to reflect upon these constitutional deficiencies, as well as the reasons the U.S. continues to uphold the death penalty when many developed nations have abandoned it. The Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, along with the National Lawyers Guild and the American Constitution Society, invited two guest speakers to WCL to share their experiences and views on the death penalty.

In 1985, Death Row Exoneree, Kirk Bloodsworth, was convicted on erroneous witness testimony and charged with the brutal killing and sexual assault of a nine-year-old girl. While serving his time in prison, he read a book about DNA being used in a criminal case and began his search in obtaining evidence that eventually proved his innocence. In 1992, the prosecution agreed to DNA testing to be performed by Forensic Science Associates. Bloodsworth was released from prison a year later and pardoned in December of 1993.

Sister Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty activist, believes that capital punishment continues to exist because people simply do not take the time to think about the death penalty. Sister Prejean asserts that when people learn more about the death penalty and think about the reasons for upholding this method of punishment, support for it dramatically declines. She believes there is a moral evolution happening in the consciousness of the country, and, during her remarks, asked the audience, comprised of future lawyers, to be mindful of our future roles as servants of justice.

As we develop as future lawyers and progress throughout our legal careers, let us not forget the importance of our role as advocates, and let us remember to question the status quo.

Diana is a member of the Center's Student Advisory Board and a Speak Truth To Power Human Rights Teaching Fellow at WCL. For more information about the death penalty, please visit the Death Penalty Information Center.

Arpilleras: Fabric Art of Memory and Protest
An Evening with Roberta Bacic in Conversation with University Chaplain Joe Eldridge

By Christina Fetterhoff '14

The collective strength of women has served as the foundation of many protest movements throughout history. This was evident once again on the evening of March 4, 2012, as members of the American University and greater Washington communities gathered to learn about arpilleras, the hand-sewn textiles created by Chilean women in response to the brutalities of the Pinochet dictatorship.

"The arpilleras have a great ambassadorial capacity because sometimes words are not enough to express what we are feeling in the most difficult moments," explained Roberta Bacic, who worked for the Chilean Truth Commission from 1993–1996 and collected over one thousand testimonies about Pinochet-era human rights abuses. She also emphasized how the act of sewing together can be therapeutic for women even after conflict or repression has ended. Women around the world, from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe to Spain and Northern Ireland, mirror the Chilean example, sewing in groups to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, and historical memory.

The Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law co-sponsored this event with the Kay Spiritual Life Center and Art and Remembrance, a non-profit arts and educational organization that, according to President and Co-Founder Bernice Steinhardt, seeks to change people's hearts and minds by illuminating the experience of war, oppression and injustice through the power and passion of personal narrative art. For their part, American University, the law school and the Center have a long-standing commitment to the promotion of human rights in Latin America, evidenced by the outstanding work done in the region by faculty members.

Christina is a member of the Center's Student Advisory Board and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Human Rights Brief. Read her latest article on www.HRBrief.org. For more information about this work, please see Who's at the Center and the staff page of the Kay Spiritual Life Center.